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Aug 27 2013

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Common materials, uncommon eye

kitchen counter top view

Have you ever seen a piece of art in a gallery or museum and thought, “I could have done that?” Frequently and often, I make that remark within earshot of a wise friend who retorts, “But you didn’t!”

Just because something seems simple or obvious doesn’t mean that it is. And while the finished product may seem unremarkable, the initiative to make it is what counts. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step!

Similarly, people often walk into a space and say, “I could have designed this,” particularly if the products used are recognizable from familiar sources – say Pottery Barn or Ikea. Yet the same response holds true in this scenario as well: “But you didn’t!”

Often, some of the very best design or architecture is well done because it looks effortless, simple and yes, perhaps obvious. Without knowing the background of the clients, designer, the direction given to the designer or the budget, it is presumptuous to suggest that something is simple or easy to do just because the resources used are available to the public.

The design industry had maintained a certain allure for many decades by utilizing sources that were available only to qualified design professionals. There still are many stores, workshops and studios that will only (or at least truly prefer to) work with design professionals because it is easier to do so. They would rather have orders placed for custom products and services by people who understand what they are asking for, know how to ask for it and can envision the outcome.

This is vastly different from the retail model, which usually has ready-made product that can be viewed and acquired on the spot. Unless the merchandise is damaged in transit or while being delivered, the buyer gets what he sees. This is not the case with custom orders, which take time and vision in order to be placed and received.

So for a variety of reasons, such as timeliness, cost and certainty of what is being purchased, design professionals and consumers increasingly prefer retail sources for interior design projects.

Here’s the rub: Just because a consumer can buy an item from a store doesn’t mean that they would have selected it or paired it in the way that a designer would. Therefore, the end result of a project – whether sourced from all retail stores or a combination of retail and custom sources – is neither easy nor obvious, though it may seem that way.

If we can agree on the preceding points, then the natural extension of this is design fees and pricing. There are many ways in which a design professional can charge for their services, from a percentage of an entire project, to time and materials, to cost plus merchandise and so on. Any option that utilizes a mark-up on a designer’s best net cost is entirely reasonable. That means if the source is Williams-Sonoma and the product is $1,000 less a 10 percent discount to the designer, and then a 35 percent mark-up is applied, the final cost is $1,215 (plus tax). It doesn’t matter that a consumer can walk in and buy the product for $1,000 – they didn’t. The $215 is the service charge that covers creative talent, selection time, placement in the home and whatever is agreed upon.

Remember, everything is agreed upon in advance, and as a customer of a design professional, your job is to give direction, provide feedback, write the checks and then get out of the way and just enjoy the process and the end result! Period.

Lloyd Princeton is a business consultant and motivational speaker devoted to interior design and architecture. Princeton frequently speaks in North America and has lectured internationally. For more, visit www.dmcnyc.com and www.imatchdesigners.com.

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Aug 23 2013

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Flooring challenges solved in design of luxury bathroom

Northern Virginia is the highest income region in its state, having seven of the 20 highest personal income counties in the entire U.S., including the top three as of 2009. It’s not out of context, therefore, that when homeowners residing in this region decide to have a bathroom remodeled, they decide to learn as much as possible about the process and then contract a professional team with strong credentials to handle this work, expecting nothing less than total excellence.


Such was the case for a major remodeling project of a master 350-sq.-ft. bath, where the homeowners wanted to transform the original space built in 1999 into a more spa-like environment with very special appointments. Collins Tile and Stone, a company in northern Virginia that specializes in custom tile work and kitchen and bathroom remodels, was tasked with the project. The bathroom’s well-thought-out overall design plans called for having a steam shower with a vertical wall spa and separate handheld shower, an air tub, a beautifully detailed tray ceiling, Roman Corinthian columns and LED lighting. From a performance standpoint, porcelain tile was the best choice for the steam shower; the material chosen combined impeccably with the originally selected stone floor and decorative wainscoting. And for the room’s floor, the owners were very focused on having the best possible electric floor-warming system installed, as well.


The stately house itself was only 13 years old, so conventional wisdom would ostensibly state this remodeling project shouldn’t have any of the major obstacles that surface when a dignified older home is about to be remodeled.

Not so in this case.

“This house was built with floor joists that were 24 inches (on center) apart from each other,” said Buck Collins, president of Collins Tile and Stone. “That size is almost unheard of, so we decided to get some expert advice prior to installing the flooring.”

According to Collins, it was collectively decided that initially they would both glue and then screw in an additional layer of plywood underlayment to the existing ¾-in. subfloor to mitigate any deflection whatsoever.

Another installation challenge arose with the bathroom floor’s stone “rug.” It’s border and inside marble tiles were of different thicknesses; the basket-weave design inside the border consisted of material that was 1/8-in. thinner than that which made up the border. To best meet this challenge, the installers flash-backed the inside stone to ensure that both materials were perfectly level with each other, eliminating any possible lippage. Lippage occurs when stone or tiles are not installed with a uniform level and their side-by-side edges do not result in a completely flat surface. This can result in discomfort when walking, especially barefoot in a bathroom and can be potentially injurious, as well.


The new steam shower was constructed with 13-in. x 1-in. porcelain tiles set diagonally on the walls and ceiling. Proper accommodation/movement joints were also installed.

Photos courtesy of Collins Tile & Stone and LATICRETE International, Inc.

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Jul 29 2013

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The Art of Using Color in Design

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. Photo by Peter Christiansen Valli

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. Photo by Peter Christiansen Valli

Color brings life to your décor. It can lift your spirit and inspire you or calm you down; even make you look better if used correctly. So why does color intimidate most people even though we all love it? The answer is simple. Color is powerful. It is as multifaceted and moody as nature but doesn’t have to be daunting to use if you follow some basic guidelines.

You don’t want your clients chirping, “It’s too bright, too loud, too bland, too bold, too, too, too…not me.” But your never want them to retreat to a bland safety zone ( no more Navaho White please!).

Even we designers can be less than confident at times and fall back to beige. But, no one would want to live in a monochromatic world, right? Well, neither do your walls and ceilings – so don’t limit them, wow them.

A little forethought will bring much success and help allay any fears of selecting the wrong wall color … for the 33rd time! Most importantly, the rewards of personalizing a home and using color correctly are great.

Pantone 101

Color doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it is affected by everything around it. Exposure of natural light (north, south, east, west) tints color, as does indoor light. What’s happening outside — how much greenery is filtering the color or reflecting onto it from outside, depth of overhangs causing shadows, color reflecting and bouncing off itself — will either enhance or subdue your desired effect. This is why you test paint in a space before committing. I have noted below some simple but effective general and specific tips for using color successfully in your home.

Walls & Ceilings

Begin with checking the direction of your natural light. Rooms with north or east exposures will have the coolest, bluest light. Colors that do best in cool light are on the warm spectrum (yellow-orange-red-brown values) or colors having these undertones.  Warm color provides the counterbalance to cool natural light. Rooms with south and west exposures use the opposite rule. Bright and direct natural light should be counterbalanced best with cool color values (violet-blue-teal-geen).Rooms with south and west exposure can take much stronger, more intense color because it doesn’t disappear in the harsh exposure.

Secondly, don’t just paint ceilings “Ceiling White.” For a soft, soothing, enveloping feel, tint ceilings to complement the wall color. This practice works well for rooms you want to be quiet and restful.

For drama, paint ceilings in high contrast using metallic paints like gold, silver and bronze, etc., or use dark/vibrant colors with a high-gloss finish. This will make your special statement rooms stand out.

To create height/air/coolness in areas such as kitchens and porches, paint the ceilings a pale, sky blue. There is a bonus beyond beauty for painting porch ceilings skye blue! Flying insects that build hives like wasps and bees are less likely to build a hive/nest in a blue ceiling supposedly because they have trouble distinguishing it from the sky. I may be giving away Grandma’s tricks of the trade and lore here, but in my experience it’s held true, and the look is pretty and refreshing

Distinguish Architecture

Use color to highlight special details in your home’s architecture. A combination of pale colors that coordinate with your walls, and white, can be used to call attention to fabulous crown moldings the way it was done in 18th-19th-century Europe.

Say “yes” to black! Every room should have a touch of black used in a not-so-ordinary way. Think windows and fireplaces. I decided to paint the windows of my house a bronze-black to give them a European elegance and also make the windows themselves feel larger and not broken up as they would if they were white.

I also always paint out the interiors of fireplaces with a heat-proof black paint — making the openings feel bigger. This also hides the heat and soot stains and prevents them from looking dirty.

Don’t be afraid to gild-the-lily occasionally. A touch of gold or silver leaf or paint added to crown moldings, wainscoting or fireplace surround details will add brightness, sparkle and vivacity to a traditional home. Use of contrasting color combinations on wainscoting and walls or in doorways is also an effective way to add drama to a room.

Creating Visual Interest

Red is almost always right. Most rooms benefit from using red, especially in the details. Incorporate red into your art by using red frames or mats for pictures, photographs or paintings. It’s especially effective for highlighting antique prints and Asian art, as I have done with antique watercolors over my fireplace.

Black is a great accent in accessories, lamp bases or used in one striking piece of furniture because it’s an anchor. Black is like the period at the end of the sentence.

Metals and metallic finishes add sparkle and reflect light, which enliven a room and even your outdoor areas. Any space, inside or out, can benefit from the spark it brings!

 - Kristi Nelson of KMNelson Design, LLC



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Jul 22 2013

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Tell your “story” to sell your services and attract clients

saving for college

If you have happy clients, you’re overlooking one of the most powerful, simple and non-sales-y tools to help you win new clients. It’s powerful because not only does it cause prospects to say “yes” to hiring you, but they’ll do it faster, too.

What is it? Client stories! So often designers tell me they don’t like selling because they think they have to brag about themselves, and that makes them uncomfortable because they don’t want to sound sales-y or conceited. The problem is, your client won’t hire you unless they know what you can do for them.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by telling client stories. People are wired to enjoy stories, so rather than bragging about yourself, you’re telling a story about someone else. It just so happens that you’re the person who helped that client.

This is why client stories are so powerful, and my favorite non-sales-y way to win a client:

  • It provides social proof that other people have hired you and loved what you did for them.
  • It allows you to demonstrate how you uniquely solved your client’s problem, which will make you stand out from other designers.
  • It encourages your prospective client to put themselves in the other client’s shoes and imagine themselves experiencing the same result.
  • And my trade secret: it allows you to turn an objection into an opportunity.

But be careful. If you do it the wrong way, it could come across as sales-y. Here’s what you should focus on to ensure that it comes across the right way, and makes your client want to hire you:

  • It needs to be a relevant client story. The client you use must be similar to your prospective client or they won’t be able to relate. Or worse, they might think, “That’s great, but how does that pertain to me?”
  • Focus on the relevant problem your client had … and how you uniquely solved it.
  • Paint a picture of the finished space – how did your client feel about it? What did it do for them? What were the benefits? Be as descriptive as possible so your prospect can visualize themselves in that picture, too.

Think about commercials you’ve seen. What do they do? They show people just like you, with a similar problem as you. You start to relate to them and maybe even feel the same problem or frustration as the character on the screen. Then they show how they uniquely solve that problem with their unique solution. And finally, they show the character on screen enjoying many wonderful benefits – benefits which you, too, want to experience.

So you imagine yourself in the commercial, knowing that if you bought that product or service, you’d get to enjoy those great benefits, too. And then…you go out and buy the product or service!

At the end of the day, your prospective client needs to know that you’ve helped other people like them before, and telling a relevant client story is the easiest and fastest way for them to know – quickly – that you’re the best designer for them. If you use client stories the way I just described, you’ll give them exactly what they need to hire you.

- Maria Bayer is the Authentic Sales Coach for Design Success University. For a link to her webinar, click here: dsu-id.us/14R8Xw8.

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